Chicago Theatre Review
A Chilling Morality Tale for a Winter Night
White Guy on the Bus – Northlight Theatre
Each Saturday Ray, an affluent, caucasian business man, shares a public bus with a single, African American mother named Shatique, in another moving drama by playwright Bruce Graham (“The Outgoing Tide”). Bouncing back and forth between the not-so-distant past and the present, this play explores and eventually dives headlong into the friction and messy complications that result from current attitudes about race relations. Relating any more details about this story would require a spoiler alert, because telling too much would weaken the impact of this play for future audiences. It’s enough to know that a terrible, unthinkable crime will be committed and one individual’s reaction, while both questionable and morally appalling, will shock theatergoers with its chilling brutality, while it promises to evoke heated conversation and a barrage of questions after the final curtain.
Northlight’s Artistic Director, BJ Jones stages this gritty drama with a smooth, calm hand that belies the play’s violence and shocking finale. Jones has directed a fine cast of talented, veteran actors in this play about upscale citizens trying to coexist in a dangerous world peopled with individuals from another economic bracket who they’ll simply never understand. John Culbert’s sparse, yet tastefully stylish set is versatile and works well, given the various locales in which this play occurs. Andrew D. Hansen’s sound and music design adds much to the tapestry of technical support.
Respected Chicago actor Francis Guinan, fresh off his fine performance in Steppenwolf’s “The Night Alive, plays Ray. As a wealthy, middle-aged businessman, contemplating his retirement and trying to tie up loose ends before his final years, Mr. Guinan is subtle and pronounced, very much in control of it all. Phenomenal area actress, Mary Beth Fisher, so remarkable recently in the Goodman’s production of “Luna Gale,” plays Ray’s high school teacher wife, Roz. With a determination to help her lower income students succeed in this challenging world, Roz has put in extra hours to help those kids needing extra assistance. Ray and Roz share a loving, respectful relationship that goes back decades, and the onstage chemistry between Guinan and Fisher supports this.
Patrese D. McClain, whose impressive resume lists Lookingglass, Chicago Shakespeare and the Court Theatre among her credits, turns in a most impressive performance as Shatique. The pain and disrespect this woman endures truly supports the indignation and anger her character expresses in the final scenes. Jordan Brown, a dynamic young actor last seen in his Jeff-nominated role in the Goodman’s production of “Brigadoon,” plays Christopher, Ray and Roz’s neighbor and surrogate son. One of Chicago’s most impressive and promising young actresses, Amanda Drinkall, who starred in the Goodman’s controversial “Venus in Fur,” creates another memorable character as Christopher’s wife, Molly. Both actors smartly portray the kind of clueless, blinders-on-their-eyes entitlement found in so many of today’s affluent young people.
Northlight Theatre continues to bring exciting new, cutting edge dramas to Chicago audiences, along with occasional revivals of of tried and true comedies and dramas. This latest play by Bruce Graham is a challenging, courageous script that’s part morality play, part thriller. In BJ Jones‘ insightful, penetrating production Chicago’s post-holiday theatrical season is off to a bang in this chilling new production that will provoke much thought and conversation.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 23-February 28 by Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 847-673-6300 or by going to www.northlight.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.